Tag Archives: fiction

How to Write Trans Characters (Or at Least Some Decent Ideas on the Subject)

Ev holding his memoirFor the most part last week’s Emerging Writer’s Workshop in LA was a love fest of prose writers, faculty, and poets. We sang karaoke together, we gave supportive critiques of each other’s work, we grumbled about dining hall food in an unseasoned bonding moment. If the workshop was in part to help us network, we hit a grand slam of connectedness. There were a couple of struggles, however, and one of them involved talking about how to help cisgender people “write” trans characters. Not surprisingly, several of us got hung up on definitions and the inclusivity of a given category of gender identity (or even gender-related identity). It’s not that we didn’t work through these issues, and everyone did their best to tease out what their questions were exactly and where they were triggered, and so on, but I’d like to suggest some other ways folks can write about trans people without maybe getting too caught up on the differences between changing definitions. And with all due respect to Jacob Hale et al’s list of how to write on transgender issues, that is really a non-fiction list, and as such, not as helpful for the fiction writer (but writers should read it anyway).

Learn about transfolk and the tensions in the trans community—Yes, one should look over definition lists, asking critical questions about the assumptions that inform the definitions. For example, does the definition of “transvestite” include that it is largely viewed as an archaic and derogatory label? Does the definition of “drag king” limit it to cisgender women only, or is it inclusive of trans-identified men? Is there a discussion about the debate between people who see transsexualism as only a medical issue and those who argue all gender is socially constructed? These differences have a real effect on the ways in which trans people walk through the world, how they use language to describe themselves, and how they relate to others. If you are trying to represent them, then your trans characters should have some background (it may not ever be shown directly in the story) on how they understand themselves. Read More…

Friday Flash: The Tree Planters

He grabs a seedling out of the thick canvas bag and drops it in the hollow pole. Schuuuck as the baby slides down, the quiet noise almost a song by the time it reaches the bottom of the tube. The seedling only sits ready to be planted for a moment before it takes its place in the brand new soil, the very youngest in a staggered row of conifers.

two suns, dawn or duskThe first sun isn’t quite over the ridge yet, but Hax is ready for it, or more accurately, he’s tired of squinting in the pre-dawn light. He and his coworker Marnie will have three solid hours of planting before the second sunrise, and then they’ll need to take cover because radiation from two stars is harsh on human skin. Like, third-degree burns harsh. So many people have died trying to make Valus habitable that Hax and Marnie have lost faith in the capabilities of the Health Service.

Schuuk. Marnie tamps down the moist dirt with her boot, just enough for the seedling to stay put but not break stride. She and Hax have an ongoing bet about who can get more trees in the ground in a day, a week, a mountaintop. So far for the week she’s ahead by 327. It’s too close a margin, in her opinion.

On the next peak ahead they can see the soil-laying machine, like a gigantic bulldozer working in reverse. It’s as close to Earth soil compositions as anyone out here can create. But it stinks like rotten broccoli and after a day of seeding the mountain, they get back to base reeking of it. The smell is so bad Marnie is grateful for her oxygen mask. Read More…

Review: Roving Pack

SassafrasLowreyRecommended reading.

I finished Sassafras Lowrey’s debut novel Roving Pack last weekend and was struck when page after page of the protagonist’s diary managed to pull and push me with each bit of hys life experience. I’m at once familiar with being gender non-conforming in an urban space in the early aughts, and apart from the young genderqueer community Lowrey describes. This is a book, after all, located in a particular place (mostly Portland, Oregon) and time (late 2002 onward), and about a group of folks two trans generations younger than me. I know the situations the protagonist Click talks about–abusive and absent parents, inconsistently disbursed resources, a peer group that sometimes causes deep heartache, and living on the margins through gray markets and under-the-table agreements. I know these experiences, yes, but I’ve spent years trying to forget those struggles, so reading the universe through Click’s eyes is painful if not also somehow validating. It’s difficult to make it through late adolescence without the additional struggles Click and hyr friends have on their backs. Read More…

First Lines, Hooks, and Asking Too Much of Ten Words

First lines are the mules of literature these days—they do the heaviest lifting in a given book, needing to “hook” the reader into reading more. Writers, I’ve been told, need to show the characters, the overall context for the story, at least a glimpse of the story’s novelty, and the conflict that will drive the plot. That’s a ton of work for the start line of any marathon. Come to think of it, real starting lines only mark a space. First sentences in fiction mark well more than the small area they occupy. Blog after writing blog expresses concern for writers who send in the first several pages of their manuscript—are there enough motivators for readers right at the outset? One conference I attended had a “first page review” with a panel of agents and editors, and more often than not, the industry experts laughed at the submissions presented to them. Surely there were a few ugly dogs among the contenders, but even so, one mere sentence that is supposed to stand above all others is a precariously high bar, and it’s something that feels (to me) less about art or creative integrity to the piece, and much more about marketing standards and focus group data. Consider the following first sentences:

  • Call me Ishmael.
  • It was like so, but wasn’t.
  • All this happened, more or less.

Yes, I picked openings that set up the narrator (Moby Dick, Galatea 2.2, and Slaughterhouse-Five, respectively). Do they say enough as a discrete sentence? I may be a more generous reader than average, but I’m willing to stick with a text past the first 50-300 characters or 5-30 words. (Robinson Crusoe starts off with a 50+ sentence, by the way.) Some ideas may work better with a little set up and delivery. Read More…

Fiction Flashback: Stranger with My Face

This originally ran over at IFryMineinButter.com.

I was an avid fan of anything suspenseful when I was a teenager. Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Dean Koontz novels, Hitchcock movies, I soaked them up like lemonade. Once I had read through a book, chances are I would read it again immediately thereafter, in order to actually comprehend its pages sans hyperventilation. I entered into those narratives with high expectations, but not so for Stranger with My Face, by Lois Duncan. It was the first novel of hers that I read, and it spawned my love for all things fantastic. I think it’s fair to say that I read Ursula K. Le Guin because I read Duncan first, and yes, I understand how different these two writers are. Read More…

Mad Men’s Trans Narrative


I recently finished watching the fourth season of Mad Men, and am glad to call myself All Caught Up with the rest of the AMC-watching world, which in the grand scheme of things, is not that large. I’ll add here that I’m not nearly as happy to hear that Jon Hamm refuses to wear underwear unless he’s wearing skivvies in a scene. He may be handsome, but all I can think of is the unlucky dry cleaner on the set. Regarding his character, Don Draper, audiences have known since early in the first season that his identity is a stolen one, and the narrative around this subplot only gets more complicated from there. There are spoilers from here on out, so please consider this my warning. Read More…

Last-minute NaNoWriMo to do list

I’m gearing up to write a novel for National Novel Writing Month this year—for 2010 I plan to write a young adult speculative fiction story that will have LGBT themes and some homages to the 1970s, adventure tales, and classic time travel sci fi—so I had to put together my “to do” list before All Saints Day rolled around. For this novel, named PARALLAX, my list looks like this, in no particular order: Read More…

Friday Flash No. 7: Mummy

My heart was on fire, or at least, it felt like it was on fire. I kept one hand over the middle of my chest to double check. A nurse noticed and came over to me.

“Inez, are you in pain again?”

I nodded. I still wasn’t any good at talking. Not on a consistent basis.

The nurse leaned in and squinted at the monitor behind me. “I can only give you one more increase,” she said, twisting something on my IV line. “The pain should start to subside soon.” She patted me gently on my shoulder and I resisted jerking away. I smiled at her in as small a fashion as possible, so I wouldn’t tear the corners of my mouth. Read More…


He handed the jar to me, a small glass container with a fluttery light inside it, some kind of hybrid between electricity, butterflies, and lightning bugs. The glass lid clattered a little as there was nothing sealing it to the jar itself.

For all of its importance Jayman pressed it into my hands without much care, not waiting to see if I had a firm grip on the thing before he headed back off toward his cubicle. I almost dropped it, and that would have been a disaster.

Read More…

Short story: 8 Ball

This story is old. Old, old, old, like nearly two decades worth of mold growth old. But as I’m otherwise occupied today, with writing something new and inventive and much better than this, I thought I’d share. The story here today is not entirely based on a new story, but it certainly has elements of early 1990s Syracuse. Enjoy!

It’s about the size of a typical urban efficiency apartment, with a faded certificate of occupancy stuck on the wall by the front door, probably with some bouncer’s chewing gum, announcing it is fit to house 35 people legally. Thirty-five dyke pygmies, maybe, but not 35 wide-assed people. Smoke hangs next to the low ceiling, hovering around the light over the small and slanted pool table, a cheap but efficient way of adding a dramatic atmosphere to both the serious and poseur sharks who swim underneath it. Most of the patrons use pool-playing as a tried and true method of picking up dates, but this usually leads to them slamming the stick into the cue ball too hard, ricocheting the shot out of the hole and ending in a staccato set of swears as they express their “disappointment.”

My friends and I have just entered the place for the third time in five days because one of them has a new crush on a townie who usually hangs out here. Usually, however, being the relative term that it is, has not included any of these three nights, and has led directly to my frustration at winding up in this dump once again, cheap beer or no cheap beer. Read More…


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